‘Skip’ Walker among this year’s inductees
Jim “Skip” Walker is retired, but he still likes to spend time on the baseball field.
The former College of Southern Idaho baseball coach, who retired after 31 years, is still involved with the program as an assistant for his son, Justin.
“It certainly is as comfortable as home,” Jim Walker said. “I love to teach. I’m still at it. My wife’s scared to death I’m going to retire. I’ve always been that way. We have a cabin we hardly go to. I just love to work with hitters. Guys come out between classes (for hitting instruction).”
Walker, 70, will be inducted into the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame tonight at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series pre-tournament banquet at Two Rivers Convention Center. Walker coached College of Southern Idaho for 31 years before retiring in 2004.
“This one is special,” Walker said. “I’ve spent my career at the juco level. I have a lot of special memories, not only of the JUCO tournament. I feel humbled by all this stuff. When I first came to CSI, I didn’t say I wanted to be in this or that Hall of Fame. You just want to win.”
Walker won — a lot. He was 1,061-349 (.752) in his career and is one of 22 coaches in NJCAA history to reach 1,000 career victories.
Walker led the Golden Eagles to a national title in 1984, a third-place finish in 1988, two fourths and a fifth. Southern Idaho won 12 Scenic West/Region 18 titles and made eight trips to the JUCO World Series during his tenure.
Colorado Mesa coach Chris Hanks played for Walker and CSI in the 1988 World Series, earning MVP honors.
Walker was an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Games in Japan in 1980 and the Friendship Games in Korea and Taiwan. He was also an assistant for Team USA in the World Games in Canada and Venezuela in 1987 and 1988.
Walker was inducted into the CSI athletics Hall of Fame in 2003 and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. The college’s baseball facility was named in his honor in 2003.
Walker has been on a baseball field since he was a boy.
“That’s all I ever did,” Walker said. “I remember my dad taking me to tryouts. He’s looking around and I’m left-handed. He looks at the catchers and sees two or three guys and said, ‘Go there.’ “
Walker played college ball and had a short stint in professional ball.
When his playing career ended, there was no question he’d coach.
He found a home at Southern Idaho and took care of the field like it was his home.
“The number one thing as the field started to evolve, it made a difference in recruiting,” Walker said. “That’s how it all started. Kids would see everything neat and see it is a good place. It evolved from that. The first impression of the field is the main thing and what the college does for the kids. We’re an old facility with a lot of character. All the teams enjoy coming here. They know the infield, grass is going to be true.”
As much pride as he took in the field, he equally enjoyed watching teenagers become men.
“To me, they’re like caterpillars,” Walker said. “You watch them become butterflies. I told one kid ‘you’re out of the caterpillars stage. You became a butterfly.’ I still have kids off my ‘74 club, they come, they call. They were at the Hall of Fame banquet in Anaheim. I had somebody there from every decade.”
Hanks, a Roaring Fork High School graduate, went to Southern Idaho after seeing the Golden Eagles play in the JUCO World Series.
“We saw CSI win the national title in ‘84,” Hanks said. “In ‘86, they were back. (Former JUCO World Series Chairman) Sam Suplizio knew I was looking for a place. He actually introduced me to Skip under the grandstands behind home plate after one of their games.
“Right after the completion of the tournament, I got in the car with my dad and drove up to Twin Falls. We liked it right away. It’s very similar to Grand Junction. If you’re in downtown Twin Falls, it is the exact plan as Grand Junction. I felt comfortable. He offered me a scholarship. It was one of those deals it felt right. It didn’t take long to decide.”
Hanks caught David Carter at CSI in the 1988 JUCO World Series.
“I faced Curt Shilling in the opening game,” Carter said. “I’ll never forget that morning. I pitched so well coming into the World Series. I threw three straight shutouts. I think I went walk, base hit, walk, grand slam, base hit and was lifted after five batters.
“I remember being so upset. The thing I remember most, later in the day, our host took us to a barbecue. (Walker) was upset with me, but I remember him coming up to me at the barbecue and saying, ‘We’re going to need you the rest of the tournament.’ He could’ve given up on me, but he said I need you again. I pitched later in the series and pitched great.”
That moment played a large role in Carter becoming a coach. He is now an assistant coach at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.
“When I was there as a player, I wasn’t really a good pitcher,” Carter said. “When I got there, I was amazed and awestruck by the type of practices we had. I was so impressed with his ability to convey his thoughts. Skip was a visionary. He came up with a lot of drills used today. He set a lot of trends.
“The thing that was impressive to me, coming from a not-so-great (high school) program, I was taken back by it all. I tried to emulate him and wanted to be him. I knew when I was done (playing), I wanted to coach.”
Hanks has instilled a lot of Walker’s philosophies into the Colorado Mesa program.
“Everything I liked he did, we emulate,” Hanks said. “I’ve picked up things from other coaches, but most of what I do I’ve pulled from Skip, especially a lot on hitting.
“That’s where I got my first real hitting instruction. He got me thinking about hitting. He whetted my appetite for it.”
College of Idaho coach Shawn Humberger said Walker was the main reason he became a coach.
“He’s a reason I wanted to get into coaching today,” Humberger said. “He’s one of the best hitting guys I’ve been around. I don’t know any offensive coach that doesn’t want to talk hitting all day.
“He comes up with a different way of saying it, kids can relate to.”
Humberger still helps with Southern Idaho’s camp each summer.
“The thing about it was, I was consistent and I never lied to them,” Walker said. “Those are two things I told myself. I would not lie to them and I was consistent.
“If a kid couldn’t play, I’d say go to school, but you just don’t have all the tools to be a player at any level. That’s one of the things my kids will say, ‘He never lied to me.’ Teaching them to win is a big deal.”